Easy Money (Snabba cash)

Sweden (2010) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) is a promising student at the Stockholm School of Economics with little money of his own but keeps up an opposite pretence in his well to do social circles. When he meets upper classed Sophie (Lisa Henni) JW realises he needs money to keep up with the Joneses and takes a job driving taxis for crime lord Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci).

Jorge Salinas Barrio (Matias Varela) is a Chilean criminal recently broken out of prison with an idea of doing one last big drug deal to seal his fortunes after learning all about the business in prison, while extracting revenge on Yugoslavian mafia boss Radovan Kranjicthose (Dejan Čukić) whose betrayal sent Jorge down.

Mrado Slovovic (Dragomir Mrsic) is a Serbian hitman working for Radovan, sent to take Jorge out before he gets to him. However when his ex-wife is hospitalised due to her drug addiction, Mrado is forced to take care of his eight year-old daughter, endangering her life. With all three desperate for money their paths cross and their fates become intertwined.

Based on the best selling Swedish novel of the same name by Jens Lapidus this thriller is a grittier extension of the Nordic Noir shows we’ve seen on TV, which may sound a tad superfluous since those shows themselves are gritty enough. But Easy Money – the first of a trilogy (the sequels appeared in 2012 and 2013) – is darker, more violent and less conclusive than its TV counterpart with just two hours to tell its tale rather than 6 weeks!

The three principles meet when Mrado tails Jorge with JW instructed by Abdulkarim to follow them and make sure Jorge is safe. JW finds Jorge badly beaten and keeps him safe at his flat becoming friends over time. Jorge offers JW a chance to make money by setting up a drugs business which starts to pay off but soon they want to expand and their ambitions catch the attention of Abdulkarim who asks JW to find away to launder the interest from a huge cocaine deal his is planning.

JW learns that Sophie’s on-off boyfriend’s father owns a bank which is close to bankruptcy so JW suggests Abdulakrim by the bank as a cover for the drug money while offering JW a huge cut of the profits. Jorge however says that JW will double cross him, which he learns is true. Mrado, looking to take his daughter to safety in Serbia, wants to thwart Abdulkarim’s plans and offers JW a substantial reward for helping him lead a raid from the inside during the delivery.  

It’s quite a convoluted web that has been spun here with the numerous parties involved based purely on the sheer amount of supporting characters involved. With crime bosses having subordinates doing their dirty work and rival bosses working in conjunction with each other it is a little too easy to be confused about who has sided with whom.

What is clear is that there are no good guys here which is rather unusual. Certainly JW and to some extent Jorge and Mrado end up de facto protagonists but with their questionable motives, backgrounds and current job occupations it is only a matter of circumstance that makes them to creates a reason for the audience to support them.

To that end JW is the one who gets some leeway for being drawn into the criminal underworld laterally rather than being an existing fully signed up member like Jorge and Mrado. He is a little too full of himself which fuels his deception of the smarmy rich elite he associates with but the fact he gets away with it deserves some kudos. Jorge’s daring prison escape opens the film with a burst of energy and we partly applaud this brazen defiance of the penal system.

He is also a committed family man but the repercussions of his actions bring more suffering for them that even money can’t compensate. As for Mrado, he makes his debut brutally knocking seven shades out of someone with debt to pay. When his daughter is later foisted upon him, his attitude is less than receptive but at least he doesn’t raise a hand to her – his voice, many times.

The story plays out in a rather random fashion insofar as how the three individual threads seem to dance over one another while the aforementioned large cast of secondary characters grows with each scene. The problem here is that many aren’t well defined and are brought in often with little to no fanfare, only to disappear again with equal haste.

Even those who provide pivotal plot developments such as Sophie are underplayed and feel more a totem of catalysis than a significant player in the story. Having not read the books one can only assume this is something lost in the adaptation process, although Jens Lapidus himself has said that the film deviates quite wildly from his own work.

The big question has to be how can a story in which the three principles are without any real obvious redeeming qualities have any appeal? As ever the answer lies in the plotting and the journey they go on.

Some of it is a little clouded by the jaunty narrative but there is a neat sense of construction to the way the deals all come together for one exciting and very bloody climax that only solves half the issues started. Redemption may not be forthcoming (yet) but we can see that lessons have been learned but what those lessons are presumably are explored in the sequels.

Ultimately I wanted to like Easy Money more than I did but what it got right was very well done. The fact I am keen to see the sequels suggests this slow burner may be a grower.

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